Back When Linux Was Fun
When are you ever going to grow up?! Act your age!
When you're a kid, all you want to do is grow up. When you get old enough to realize that being older isn't all it's cracked up to be, people invariably point out that you should start acting your age. I used to throw out the following argument as a retort. "But if I'm 24 now (later it was 30, 37, 42, and so on) and I act this way at 24, then by definition that's acting my age. Right?" I've been using that argument as long as people have been telling me to either grow up or act my age and it still doesn't work. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I'm supposed to have matured and become serious about things.
And so it is with Linux. It all started out in fun. I know. I've got Linus Torvalds' "Just for Fun" here on my bookshelf. Says so right there on the front cover. Fun. And it was fun. But as with anyone approaching adulthood, Linux was apparently not taking itself seriously enough. If Linux was to conquer the server room, the desktop, the mobile market, the real time processing world, etc, etc, then it had better clean up its act. Add a little polish. Get serious about business. And it did.
Linux is everywhere now. It's in your television set, your PVR, your thermostat, your phone . . . it's everywhere. Linux is the heart of the world's most powerful supercomputers. It's the engine that delivers most of the world's Internet searches. The biggest e-commerce sites run on Linux. Large mega-corporations rely on Linux and open source software to remain mega-corporations. The days of Linux is going to make it when it becomes a serious operating system have been with us for a while. In fact, Linux and open source software is so prevalent in the world that its impact far outweighs anything served up by even the great commercial closed software behemoths we all know and love. Make no mistake folks, Linux has already won the OS war, even if most people, trapped in the desktop world, are blissfully unaware of the fact.
This is a serious, totally grown up, operating system.
So why do I get these feelings of nostalgia? Why do I look at some of the lesser known projects out there, those that are often driven by a lone coder or two, with a warm fuzzy feeling as though that's where the real fun is? I'll give you an example. I recently discovered a program called Minitube, a native YouTube client written by one Flavio Tordini. This is one of those cool little projects that has fun written all over it, and like so many fun things in the Linux and open source world, it's really quite useful.
Using Minitube, you just type in one or more keywords and it pulls in a list of videos based on your search. No need for a Web browser and, get this, no need for Flash Player either. It's YouTube on the skinny and it feels a lot like watching television, in full high definition (1080p) no less. Videos play one after another in a stream. Jump ahead or go back. It's all frightfully easy.
Minitube is just one example but I could name hundreds off the top of my head. I love these little projects and while most of the attention is on the grown up side of Linux and open source software, I have a special fondness for those projects that are a little less 'mature'. I love what companies like Canonical have done to polish their Ubuntu Linux distributions into an operating system worthy of powering the computers that make business tick. In fact, I love the fact Ubuntu is a respected and grown up product. We've made it. This is the big time.
But I'm going to let you in on a secret.
If I ever stumble upon vast wealth (as one friends puts it, "Help me Lotto 6/49, you're my only hope! ") I'm going to find a bunch of these fun little projects and throw money at them. Then, when the software is all polished and grown up like, I'm going to move on to the next fun but somewhat immature project. I call it 'funding the FOSS fun'. Because being all grown up shouldn't mean the end of all the fun.
So, if it was up to you, what not-100% polished, really cool, and definitely kind of fun project would you throw money at? What package -- and I'm not talking about the KDE, GNOME, Firefox, OpenOffice.org, totally slick and mature projects here -- would you like other people to turn their attention to? What unsung heroes of fun FOSS need to be recognized so that we can put the pre-adult fun back into Linux? Leave a comment and let me know. We'll make a little list.
Now if you'll excuse me, my three year old wants to watch "Harry and His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs".
Until next time . . .